Ellē: Reunited

I recently reunited with nine friends from my teenage years. We had not been together as a group in decades.  Any trepidation about how life experiences and time would affect our interactions evaporated almost immediately. We reverted to our former inappropriately silly selves with relative ease.  It was exhilarating, with feelings likely enhanced following a year and a half of pandemic-related restrictions. We left each other vowing to maintain our renewed connections, which I truly hope isn’t one of those things we’re compelled to say. 

The reunion forces me to ponder the aging process and whether or not I’m well-preserved. These thoughts inspire me to write about one of my favorite DC restaurants…Ellē. It’s not a big leap, trust me.    

I haven’t been acquainted with Ellē for all that long, but I fell for it immediately when it debuted in Mount Pleasant in early 2018.  The admiration was widespread. Eater DC named it Restaurant of the Year in 2018 and it rose to the top of Tom Sietsema’s Washington Post Spring Dining Guide that year.  

In his Fall 2021 Dining Guide, Sietsema dubs Elle’s Executive Chef Brad Deboy a ‘mad scientist’ because so many of his dishes incorporate ingredients that have been modified through chemistry. Deboy has a particular affinity for fermentation, which initially began as a way for him to address health issues. It remains a distinguishing characteristic of his cooking, and we are all the better for it. 

Ellē – which is a café and bakery- has been offering daytime carryout throughout the pandemic.  They reopened for indoor dining, for dinner only, over the summer.  My return to the restaurant feels like a walk down memory lane as I recall where I sat, who accompanied me, and what I ate during previous visits.  

As I peruse the menu, I reminisce about why I was initially smitten. Some dishes sound straightforward: sourdough bread, fried pickles, charcoal grilled tuna, and pork milanese. Others have an air of mystery: beet ‘nduja lettuce wrap, grilled shio koji turnip; butternut squash-chi toast, and grilled tempeh ribs. Everything tempts me, and narrowing down selections for a meal isn’t easy.

My recollection of Ellē in its early days is that you could put together a terrific vegetarian meal. The menu has matured in that regard, with an even greater abundance of choices.. This puts Ellē on the map as an ideal spot for vegetarians and vegans. 

Sourdough bread is a classic example of how the fermentation process enhances flavor. DeBoy tinkers with his bread by tossing it on the grill and serving it with cultured butter, whey caramel, and pickles. You want at least one order on your table.  

‘Nduja- typically a spread made from pork- gets a total makeover. Beets are accessorized with Calabrian chili, labneh, feta, and crispy shallots. The gem lettuce leaves are functional, plus add to the visual appeal. 

Ellē Beet ‘Nduja Lettuce Wraps

One of the benefits of fermentation is that it can help with brain cognition. Say no more. Bring on the grilled fermented cabbage with country bread, labneh, vegan XO sauce, and coconut caramel. An order of charred white sweet potato curry with pickled onion is mandatory.  

Ellē Sweet Potato Curry

There is a meaty side to Ellē’s menu, and it’s well worth exploring. Duck ragu with casarecce pasta, ricotta salata, and a crunchy layer of breadcrumbs is creative and comforting. Who couldn’t use a warm hug in the form of food right now?   

Memories may wane, but I can still conjure up the taste of charcoal grilled tuna with sweet potato, apple, tiger’s milk, chili oil, and pepitas. Like every dish that has preceded it, this is a combination of sweet, spicy, tart, and crunchy designed to surprise and delight diners.     

     

Ellē Grilled Tuna

Don’t forget to order dessert. Honey goat cheese cheesecake topped with pear slices caps off a delectable dinner. 

Ellē Honey Goat Cheesecake

We hear so much about service issues in restaurants these days, but it isn’t evident on my recent visit. Our server is warm, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic. Dishes are delivered expediently, without feeling rushed.

I don’t realize how much I miss dining at Ellē until I step inside. It is a welcome homecoming, much like the reunion with my old friends.  I’ll savor the memories, and do what I can to expedite the next get-together.

Ellē, 3221 Mt Pleasant St NW, Washington, DC

 

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